African Nations Face Economic Choices

African economies are diverse. Each country has a different mix of economic resources. A few have rich farmland. Others have cash crops that the world wants, such as cotton, cocoa, tea and coffee. Some countries have great mineral resources, such as diamonds or oil. After achieving independence, each African nation had to make choices as to how to best develop their resources.

Economic Models

After independence, many Africans nations were attracted to socialism, an economic system in which major economic decisions are made by the government rather than by individuals, companies, and the market. They hoped to industrialize rapidly and looked to the models of the Soviet Union and China, which had made rapid gains in a short period. Some developed their own form of “African socialism,” based on traditions of consensus and shared responsibility.

These early models of development did not succeed. By the 1980s, most African nations moved toward market reforms, which international lenders required before making badly needed loans.

Cash Crops or Food Crops?

For decades, African governments and multinational corporations worked to boost production of cash crops for export, such as coffee, cocoa, rubber, and cotton. However, the drive to develop cash crops for badly needed income hurt many countries. Land used to grow cash crops could not be used to produce food. Faced with growing populations, some countries had to buy costly imported food. To prevent unrest among the urban poor, many governments then kept food prices artificially low, which was costly.

Today, the demand for both cash crops and food crops remains high. Governments want to produce enough food for their people, and have encouraged small farmers to adopt new practices to increase food output. At same time, they focus on competing in global markets for cash crops.

Economic Growth in Africa

In the past ten years, economic activity across Africa has increased with some nations experiencing strong economic gains. In fact, parts of the continent have posted growth rates equal to, or greater than, parts of Asia.

Progress is due to many causes. Some countries once torn by conflict have restored political stability and made progress, including Rwanda, Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique., such as greater political stability and an end to some conflicts.

Photo of a group of workers in hard hats on a land rig.

Many industries flourish throughout Africa. In Nigeria, for example, the oil industry is dominant. These men are working on an oil rig in Nigeria's River State.

Trade has driven much economic growth. African nations have increased trade and other economic ties with industrial giants such as China and India. Some nations have benefited from rising prices for oil, minerals, and other commodities. Many have also reduced foreign debt and brought down high rates of inflation.

As African economies expand, more people prosper, producing a growing middle class. These consumers, in turn, help drive still greater economic growth. South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and all of North Africa are classified as “middle income countries.”

Despite improvements, African growth could face setbacks. Global prices for export crops and commodities are subject to swings that can affect growth. Wars, natural disasters, and misguided government policies can also hurt individual countries.

Still, the current growth in Africa has attracted outside investment capital needed to build a strong infrastructure, or underlying transportation and other systems.

Cooperation Furthers Development

African nations have benefited from regional and international cooperation.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments